Around The World In 80 Wines: Part 8 Southern France

After our whistle stop tour through the North of France it is time to head South to sunnier climes. And what excellent wines they have in store, from the classic, venerable wines of Bordeaux to the rustic, juicy black fruit and herbal nuances of the Languedoc-Rousillon’s finest there’s something for everyone here.

But it’s not just the classic red wines I’ll be tempting you with, there’s also a range of really fruity and interesting whites that go superbly with loads of tasty food and some top notch sparkling wine at prices that belie their quality. Every day can feel celebratory with a glass of fizz in your hand and when you’re shelling out well under a tenner for the privilege you know it makes sense.

The regions I’ll be covering will be Bordeaux, The Rhone Valley, Beaujolais and The Languedoc-Rousillon. All these areas have unique soil, climate and character or as the French more elegantly put it ‘Terroir’. So get your adventurous drinking head on and off we go.

Let’s be honest, I had to kick off with Bordeaux didn’t I? Now I know the nouveau riche Chinese have a newly acquired taste for top level Claret which has bumped up the price to ridiculous levels (even if some of them put Coke in it – the horror!) But here are a couple of bargains that we can all afford and a good rule of thumb to remember is that in stellar vintages like 2005, 2009 and 2010 even entry level stuff will be worth a pop.

 

Asda Extra Special Bordeaux Chateau Roberperots (Asda £8.97) – Click Here To Buy

This is one of the new wines from Asda’s revitalized range and is a classic, smooth Merlot dominated Bordeaux. On pouring, the wine has a dense purple colour which is very inviting. The smell is of blackberries and plums which continues on the palate along with subtle toasty cedar flavours and fine tannins softened by subtle oak ageing.

This is a simple, classic Claret and very easy drinking for those who wish to give it a try without spending a fortune. We enjoyed it with a roast beef dinner with gravy, horseradish and big fat Yorkshire puds and it coped with those powerful flavours really well too, bringing the whole meal together.

In summary, if you like this wine it’s worth trying others from the right bank of Bordeaux which are likely to be Merlot dominant too. For those reaching for a fuller, bold blackcurrant mouthful look for left bank wines such as Medoc. Aldi occasionally stock an excellent Cru Bourgeouis Medoc from Chateau Chantemerle which also comes in at under a tenner and pulls off the trick of being full of flavour yet mellow. A real winner.

 

Dourthe Grands Terroirs Blanc (Oddbins £8.49) – Click Here To Buy

So here’s one of those whites I told you about earlier. Although little over 10% of Bordeaux wines are white, they’re really rather good and this whistle clean example is a fabulous case in point.

Most white Bordeaux are made up of a Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend (although there are lots of weird and wonderful local grapes which are allowed to be used) but this one is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and well worth a try.

Unlike the New Zealand examples which are full of big gooseberry, tropical and nettle flavours, this one is as sharp as Stephen Fry and just as refreshing. It has crisp lemony fruit, stony minerality and a mouth watering acidity which makes it very easy to drink either on its own or with all manner of seafood. Think oysters, king prawn skewers on the barbecue or a plate of crisp calamari with garlic mayo. Mmm.

Now it’s time to head East to the Rhone Valley. By Jove there are tons of wines hailing from these parts but I’m going to hit you with a couple that represent great value for money. The good news is that these wines are on offer for about half the year but unlike the aisle end half price and multibuy ‘deals’ they’re actually very nice wines and a steal at the offer price.

 

Cellier des Dauphins Cru des Cotes du Rhone (Asda – usually £10.50 but currently £6) – Click Here To Buy

Many people wax lyrical about the ‘Cru’ Rhone wines, those which hail from the best sixteen regions of the Rhone Valleys of France and they’re right to do so. There are the wonderful supple yet big flavoured Grenache dominant wines from the Southern Rhone and even more hearty, earthy Syrah heavy wines from the Northern Rhone.

From Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas in the South to Hermitage and Condrieu, the home of heady Viognier wines which make you feel like you’re bathing in nectar, in the North there are some excellent wines to try. Go out there, experiment and find your favourite. Christmas is a good time to get these wines on offer or try them at wine fairs and tastings for an inexpensive trek around this region.

Anyway, this wine is from Vinsobres, a relative newcomer to the heady Cru heights and is incredible value for money at £6 a bottle. As you pour the wine it has a gorgeous deep crimson hue with the scent of red berries and spice. This continues on the palate and the flavours are like a summer pudding oozing with raspberries, blackberries and strawberry fruit topped off with a lick of cinnamon spice.

This is so smooth you can just pour it and enjoy but I’ve paired it with garlic and rosemary studded leg of lamb, roast potatoes and all the trimmings and I was transported to an olive grove in the French sunshine. Gorgeous.

 

Calvet Heritage Côtes du Rhône Blanc (Tesco usually £10.99 but currently £5.99) – Click Here To Buy

Rhone whites are so awesome, full of rich apricotty flavour, juicy and full in the mouth and brilliant with hearty roast chicken, Chinese food or even a mildly spiced curry they’re one of the wine world’s best kept secrets. For the ultimate example try a lush, giddy Viognier from Condrieu but save up as it’ll probably set you back at least £20 a bottle.

For a far more affordable example this blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Rousanne from the consistent Calvet stable is well worth a try. Admittedly it’s definitely not worth over a tenner but for around six quid it’s a real find and has the classic white Rhone hallmarks of big apricot and peach fruit, good minerality and acidity but real generosity of flavour too.

Sip in the garden on those long summer days that Britain can always rely on getting. Or be more realistic and sip in the garden with a coat on whilst remembering the long summer days we used to get in the 1970s.

Bordering the Rhone to the North is the currently unfashionable (but unfairly so) Beaujolais region. I guess this area still suffers from a hangover due to the dreadful banana and bubblegum Beaujolais Nouveau wines which used to blight our shores every November. But this is to do their very best wines a disservice as there are some sprightly summery and slightly more serious yet still wonderfully smooth and joyous reds that can be had from the top ‘Cru’ areas. And here are two of them.

 

Georges Duboeuf Fleurie (Sainsburys £10) – Click Here To Buy

From the master of Beaujolais comes this classic Fleurie. Full of soft strawberry fruit with a little blackcurrant leaf in there for interest and complexity this, like all Beaujolais, is made from the Gamay grape and is classic summer drinking at its best.

Although it can be served at room temperature I like this lightly chilled to really bring out the fruit flavours. Another wine made for solo sipping it also pairs really well with classic picnic food such as pork pies, sandwiches and even fresh summer berries. Snap it up while, like Alsace, it’s off the radar of the Sauvignon and Shiraz drinking masses and still an affordable slice of French ‘la belle vie’.

Oh yes Georges Duboeuf also makes plenty of other excellent Cru Beaujolais including the even lighter Chiroubles or slightly fuller Brouilly which my mate Neil was recently in raptures over, the empty bottles of which now decorate his recycling box most weekends.

 

Morgon 2014 Château de Pizay (Majestic usually £11.99 but currently £8.99 if you buy 2 as part of 6 bottle order) – Click Here To Buy

Another classic red Cru Beaujolais but this is from the harder to find Morgon appellation. Still beautifully smooth and supple, Morgon has bolder fruit flavours than many other Cru Beaujolais and is a fantastic wine.

The wine is still light in colour and body but crammed full of rich cherry and blackberry fruit. Another gorgeous wine for drinking on its own lightly chilled (say half an hour in the fridge) but also a top match for roast pork or even young lamb with new potatoes and peas. Due to its excellent structure it will age for a couple of years and develop slightly more savoury characteristics if that’s your thing. Personally I say chill it down and drink with the dishes above or do as I did and match with a plate of French charcuterie and bread.

Finally we travel down to the French-Spanish border to the Languedoc-Rousillon. Here the rolling hills, long summer days and herb filled fields are perfect for producing some really characterful wines, plump with fruit and savoury, herbal notes. There are plenty of wonderful, boldly fruited reds and ripe, juicy whites here from Fitou, Corbieres and beyond. Try a load and find your favourite.

 

Château Aigues Vives Cuvée d’Exception 2013 Corbières (Majestic usually £10.49, but currently £8.91) – Click Here To Buy

As per the white Bordeaux above this was originally a Dourthe wine, but is now run by ex-French rugby international Gerard Bertrand and this guy shows just as much flair in his wines as Les Bleus did in the pitch.

This is classic Corbieres. Full of big black and red fruits with a rustic yet complex savoury edge of dark chocolate, herbs and pepper, here is a wine made for food. As the old adage goes ‘what grows together goes together’ and nothing could be truer of this wine. Drink it with a classic Cassoulet, fat with pork belly and herbs or go for garlicky French sausages or braised lamb. Whatever you choose you’ll be enjoying an exceptional wine from the seriously excellent South.

 

Tesco Finest 1531 Blanquette de Limoux (Tesco £10.99) – Click Here To Buy

For the uninitiated, French fizz is not all Champagne, however if that’s your thing check out my Champagne Anyone? article here

Here is a belter of a fizz though and at a shade over a tenner it feels celebratory even though the price tag would suggest otherwise. Hailing from the Langeudoc Rousillon area of Southern France it’s made in the same way as Champagne with secondary fermentation in bottle but as it’s not from there it’s not expensive. What’s not to like?

There’s an abundance of ripe orchard fruits here with a wonderfully crisp, toasty edge. Many would mistake these classic flavours for Champagne and with good cause, it’s brilliant as an aperitif or serve with party nibbles such as smoked salmon blinis or breaded plaice fillets.

Bonne sante!

The Wine Rebel